How does an Abisi host introduce a guest to his family?
How does he or she name the family members? Can the English words for brother, sister, cousins, aunts/uncles and the (great) grandparents be truthful to Abisi language ?
These words are the kinship terms .
They are arranged into a system, a kinship terminology, by a set of rules based on sex or gender, age, marriage and descent differences.
This is the code that children must learn to know who are the important persons in their life.
A Generational Kinship Reference System
When referring to kinship, Abisi distinguishes eight different kinds of persons in their reference terminology, the words used to talk about their kin.
In this genealogical table, triangles are men and circles are women. Equal signs are marriages and lines are connections between people. If a person, generally called Ego (myself), is put in the center, how will he name his kin related by descent (blood ties)?
Kin of the same generation as Ego are called by the same word. Siblings (brothers and sisters) and cousins are all named /ut∫inak/. Fathers are named /ba/ and mothers /ne/ and aunts and uncles are merged into these two gender categories: all men of the father’s generation are called /ba/ and all the women /ne/.
At the grandparent’s level, men are all named /kwi/and women /kongo/.
Merging the kinship terms of persons of the same general generation and gender is called a classificatory kinship system.
This system uses very few kinship terms. It means that being related to one such person means to be related to all others of the same category, it emphasizes closeness between people from the father’s side to the mother’s side.
It is easy to see how such a system is useful to simplify the complex Abisi kinship with the father’s polygamy and the mother’s many husbands that creates a vast web of half-siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins.
There are many societies in the world doing the same thing (more than 36% of all peoples), the most famous being the Hawaiians from the American Pacific islands.
The mother’s brother is called father but his special relations to his sister’s son nephew is specially recognized as /umat/ and /kimat/, a term also applied to the whole maternal side kin.
A man has joking relationship with his amat and also with his wives.
When talking about kin, if necessary, the paternal side /tineba/ the father’s belly side may be distinguished from the maternal kin, /tinene/, the mother’s belly.
Classification fathers, those who are not the paternal one, are named /ba:ki/. Older siblings can also be distinguished from the younger ones: /ikuŋe/ the big ones or senior and /ukeŋe/ the juniors.
Kinship Attitudes Rules
Kinship also rules attitudes, how to behave with different relatives.
A son’s attitude will differ if he talks to his mother or to his father. He can call his mother by her name but not his father.
He cannot say his father’s personal name in his presence neither for any old man for that matter.
Saying his name is to act as if he was a stranger and insult him.
“The former chief is called the Old Chief because you cannot say a father’s name in front of him, he will feel that you don’t treat him as a father although he is like your father so you say old chief or old man.”
The oldest son is an exception, he can call his father and his mother by their surname. His prime status is recognized and it would be a shame to call them /ba/ or /ne/.
Daughters can call their father by their name but not their mother unless she is the eldest daughter. Parents do not use their child’s name to call them but say /tchak/, an interjection, to get their attention.
In general, old women are called /congo/, old man are /ukuŋia /and women /uko/. An old /congo/ women address her grandsons by the term /urenaŋ/, my husband and her granddaughter by /uwunte/, my co-wife.
This is the term used between two women married to the same man. An old man, the /kwi/, calls his grandson /unↄ/, my friend and his granddaughter /ukonaŋ/, my wife.
Sons or older daughters are /kit∫en uparaƞe/, those of an older brother are /ut∫inak ukugne/ Big Brother sons. Old men and women call each other by their names but a woman can be called by the name of her sons i.e. “Mother of Buss”
Grandfathers, in general, are called /baaba mↄt/ and refer to all grandfathers.
A man calls his brother’s wife by her name and behaves like he was one of her husbands but he avoids his older brother’s wife and to get her attention he says /t∫ak/. He also gets his younger brother’s wife’s attention by /t∫ak/ or uses her common nickname to call her.
Marriage Kinship Terminology
When talking about their spouses, general names like /Ukonaŋ/, my wife or /Urenaŋ/, my husband, are used. But referring to the type of marriage can be more specific.
Wives can be : /Uko riner/ or /Uko eba/, (father’s wife) /Usa kiso/ love-girl . /Uko kpe/ grass wife, /Uko pↄ∫i/brother’s wife. In the same way, husbands are: /Ure riner/, /Uyira kiso/, Ure kpe/, /Ure po∫i/.
Kinship was the whole social world of an Abisi child in which he had to build his personal identity.
He learned to identify different categories of kin and to see himself has a part of it.
Having a kinship label gave him a meaningful place in his world.